Vojvodinian Houses: Art of Living

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Žikica Milošević

Vojvodinian houses are made from the same soil they stand on. They are spacious, just like the Vojvodinian soul, decorated with plenty of flowers and create a lot of shade. This is how we here picture heaven.

The development of private houses in Vojvodina started sometime in 1718, since the houses built earlier do not generally exist any longer because they were made from mud (sundried bricks) or destroyed by time. Back in the day, houses were primitive – earth houses, cottages, huts, lagumica (cave house), suvača (house powered by a dry-mill, one still can be found in Kikinda) and bugarka (house without an attic) which does not exist anymore. However, the houses that have been preserved exude harmony. Many have been saved thanks to a very banal thing – the law. Namely, according to Austrian laws, the houses had to be a part of a street, build along a straight line, and “had to be located on the street regulation line, with their narrower part facing the street, while the distance between two houses had to be at least 17 meters, due to fire hazard”, namely so that fire in one house would not spread to the other.

This is how first houses came about, also known as the line houses (or furrow houses) since only one room was facing the street, while the others were positioned after that one, in one straight line. Usually, the room closest to the street was empty and reserved for guests. The people of Vojvodina always mocked those who slept in that room saying that only „a crazy person would sleep in the room next to the street.”

Behind living quarters were workshops, pantries and stables. Along these rooms was a parallel corridor called gonk which had openings, like those found in haciendas in Spain. This is where flower pots usually were (mostly with Pelargoniums), a sign of German influence. Houses could not be entered directly from the street, the facade was flat, caked in mud and painted white or beige, which was the favourite colour of Empress Maria Theresa. Over time, more rooms in typical Vojvodinian houses were facing the street, which led to the emergence of the so-called elbow houses, shaped as the letter L. These houses had a street entrance, and the owners of some of them used the first room, as you enter from the street, as shops or workshops, while the family of the house would usually enter it through a gate and gonk. As far as the roofing goes, the oldest houses had a thatched roof, which was before the invention of roof tiles. The thatched houses were called that because the roof was covered in straw, namely bundles of several tens of impregnated stems.

Until 100 years ago, this was the dominant type of housing for all nations in Vojvodina. The ceiling under the rooftop was an indispensable storage space for many vegetable-based products. Unfortunately, some of the remaining thatched houses in Novi Sad have been disappearing lately with only a handful of them preserved in Belo Blato. As time passes, the cities in Vojvodina are starting to dominate the landscape (next to England, Vojvodina has some of the most densly populated cities in Europe). And there is no need any longer to have an „elbow“ house, because, under the influence of German colonists, we can often find the so-called line houses, that are looking to the street and are semi-detached.

Here we also have several types – houses that do not have a separate entrance, those that have a door as an entrance, and those that have a wide, covered entrance. The so-called double houses are a special type of houses that have a wide covered entrance (called ajnfort in Vojvodina), and they are usually built by two brothers on their father’s plot. They share one ajnfort as a common entrance, while the left part of the house belongs to one household, the right part to the other household, and the yard is shared.

In time, flat façades have started to disappear and now feature decorative plastic details, as seen in the West. Also, instead of triangular gables there are specially built, decorative gables. Gable is an ordinary triangular wall with an attic behind it. These gables were influenced by the German immigrants and look exactly like those in Germany, with slight alterations found in different villages. Mitrovica has many so-called the Nuremberg-style gables, which exist only in Nuremberg (unfortunately, there are very few left there, because the city was razed to the ground in the Allied bombardment in WWII, so there was no room or time for detailed decorations during the reconstruction).

The gables in Srem County are heavily influenced by the Nuremberg-style architecture and Hesse State, from where the colonists came to Srem. On the other hand, gables in Bačka and Banat counties are made from wood, namely from „vertically arranged planks, which are, in some cases, decorated with battens and are a typical feature of the national architecture of certain ethnic communities, as well as geographically located settlements, especially those close to the Tisza River”, says Branislav Milić. The municipality of Novi Bečej has several such houses, as well as those with the so-called sun gable, since the sun was the most common decorative motif used on wooden gables.

As far as facade decorations and colours are concerned, they usually have inscribed the names of houss owners and the symbols depicting the all seeing eye, while the Slovaks became famous for painting their houses in light blue (“Slovak blue” or “Tot blue”) which is Slovakia’s national colour. There are many such houses in Kisač, Stara Pazova, Petrovac and Kovačica. The Slovaks are the ones that began putting up ceramic tiles on their facades or using facade bricks, again usually in light-blue colour (it is interesting to note that the Slovaks, according to some testimonials, painted their houses in yellow, at first). The Germans and Hungarians used the secessionist motifs from 1900 to 1918.

Kibicfenster (a type of window) is a special feature on houses here and Vojvodina’s trademark. When a house is built, usually there is a protruding window installed, with a three-part glass feature, that is used for street viewing or kibicovanje. Through kibicfenster one could see everything that was going on in the street without actually having to poke their head out. The word originates from the German word “Kibitzfenster” meaning “the window for viewing”, and except in Germany, it is also popular in the Atlantic region of Spain. In Great Britain, it is called “bay window”, although the shape is not the same.

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All in all, Vojvodina’s houses represent the souls of many people who inhabited the Pannonian Plain over the centuries. This is where traditions intertwined and where there is no “ethnic purity” in architecture, just like there is no „genetic purity“, we are happy to report. This is a melting pot in which everyone lives in line with their true self which is the greatest wealth of Vojvodina.

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